Walking away from the sex industry was HARD! Stripping had become more than a job. It was my life.
I spent several years, creating this character, Monique. Monique had her own set of friends, norms, and survival methods… I hid behind her and eventually, lost sight of who the real Harmony was.
The nature of my job and the abusive relationship I was in kept me in a constant state of isolation from the outside world. My co-workers and customers were the only people I had interactions with besides my boyfriend-turned-pimp.
Aside from walking away from the people and settings that had become so familiar to me, I walked away with gaps on my resume, no potential employment, and a couple of decades worth of trauma and abuse to “unpack” and heal from. I still couldn’t look men in the eye, cringed when anyone tried to hug me or shake my hand, and was plagued with nightmares at night and intrusive sexually violent thoughts throughout the day. I couldn’t ride in an elevator without imagining the man next to me trying to rape me.
Recently, I met a Forensic Social Worker who shared some insight gained from research on the top three needs women have when they leave sex work.
According to Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Ph.D., here is what is needed:
- A Mentor
- A Way to Deal with the Trauma
- A Way to Deal with the Family “Mess”: She further noted that some women may not be able to reunify with their families, but it is still important to address the issues in their family of origin.
There is a part of me that looks at this list and wants to add “A New Job” and/or “An Employable Skill/Education. While those things are needed, without addressing the needs above, it is difficult to keep that new job or stay focused on acquiring a new skill or completing and education.
In my own experience, the three things listed above were very significant to my ability to successfully leave sex work and move forward in my life. If it weren’t for the mentors in my life, support groups and therapy sessions that helped me process the trauma I experienced and sift through some of the hurt in my family relationships, I don’t even want to imagine where I would be.
If you are involved in an outreach to women in the industry and victims of sexual exploitation, as you look at the care you are providing, are you creating avenues that will help them with the needs above? Are you mentoring them or connecting them with mentors? Are you helping them find ways to process their trauma and recover from the “mess” that may exist in their families?
This may mean finding a therapist to do pro-bono work for the women you serve. Or partnering with another recovery group or organization in your community. Or you may find it helpful to use the X-Girls curriculum to facilitate a support group.
What about you? What are the needs that you see? Do you agree that the ones listed above are on the top of the list? What ways have you found to meet those needs?
Harmony Dust founded Treasures in 2003 while completing a Master’s in Social Welfare at UCLA. To date, she has trained outreach leaders that have gone on to establish more than 97 sex industry outreaches on 5 continents. She has been featured in various media sources, including Glamour Magazine, The Dr. Drew Show, and The Tyra Banks Show. She is a sought after speaker and her memoir, Scars & Stilettos, gives an account of the journey of going from working in strip clubs, to leading an organization that reaches women in the sex industry on a global scale.